By Ruvimbo Samanga
The wide blue expanse lies still in the midnight gloom of the quiet night. But that beautiful, blue void you see is not the night sky for which Zimbabwe is well known. It’s the vast reflection of Lake Kariba, the largest human-made lake in the entire world. Nestled in the heart of the Great Zambezi floodplains, the water stirs listlessly as a few stone-throws away a young girl casually strolls through the crisp air.
Ruvi Humbi jumps over a puddle, narrowly missing the steep banks of the lake, and casually drops herself to her knees near the wide embankment. She’s talking to herself, she remembers she’s not supposed to sit so close to the water. She hears a sudden rush of water behind some reeds hanging lazily and wonders if it’s the Nyaminyami.
She has heard the older kids mention how they usually see a shooting star before the mysterious creature emerges from the deep to protect its home. She also knows it isn’t a very pleasant homeowner and doesn’t quite appreciate guests. She raises herself briskly as she wipes away the memory of the time she had ventured too far into the water and had felt her legs entangled in some rather persistent reeds. She’d kicked as hard as she could and freed herself to walk out the lake. She tries to never think about that event again.
Now she stood, taking in wide breaths of damp, murky, swamp air and admiring the starry dots that adorned the night sky. She also heard that the great lake was a gateway to outer space, so she pondered on it even more deeply. “I wonder where the roof of the sky ends? If I could take a giant leap and go there I would discover all of it.” she muttered, as she walked gingerly back towards her home. Her mother would be beginning to wonder where she was.
She climbs on top of a kopje* and pretends she’s reaching out to the sky. Which still threatened quiet yet menacingly below. She looks up again towards the night sky, and this time she sees a flickering bulb, larger than the rest, and seemingly moving. She jumps up again, attempting to catch it, but instead her foot catches the jagged edge of the boulder on which she stands and gives way. She can feel herself sliding without restraint along the boulders side, her body feeling each bump and scrape as she goes, and then finally, the cool, numbing swell of the water around her.
Her head completely underwater, she looks up and can see the rippling slivers of the Moon above, dancing in front of her like a watery, silent space show. She’s so mesmerised she forgets to push her legs against the bed of the lake and propel herself back to the surface. She can see a bright light and considers how pretty it looks as small round bubbles from her lips trickle towards it. Instinctively, she puts her arms out in front of her, reaching towards this bright orb, and she suddenly finds the resolve to kick her feet with all her might. Her feet swish amongst the reeds, and she stares up at the Sun with the same serenity of feeling the warm summer sun on her neck.
And then, a cold gust of wind. She feels a pair of hands grab her quivering body and lay her on the bank. She’s breathing quick, shallow breaths and is not yet cognisant of the shadowy figure that looms behind her. She perceives the form of a man, muttering against the silhouette of the night. But it isn’t fear that she feels. Instead, familiar awe grasps her young mind as she naively asks: “What strange things are you saying? Are you a ghost?”
“I have shared with you some Shona proverbial wisdom that you should take with you throughout your life,” He says as he turns slowly towards her, finally revealing his dark, bird face and the mane of coloured feathers about him. “Guyu kutsvuka zvaro asi mukati rine masvosve. Some things look attractive from afar or from outside, but they are not so good inside.” Ruvi looks at him with childlike confusion and begins to raise herself to her feet, edging herself closer to where this figure stood gazing across the lake.
Showing a holographic sketch which illuminates his face as it pans out before their gaze, he continues to speak, “You see, outer space begins about 100km above the Earth, where the shell of the air of the planet is beginning to disappear.” He lets out a barely audible sigh. She looks up at him dolefully. “Earth is unique, space doesn’t have this air. And without air to scatter light particles and produce the blue skies that adorn this village, space appears as a black blanket, dotted with a few bright coloured stars, planets, and other phenomena.” Ruvi looks back at the sky with a new sense of intrepidness and boldly declares, “One day I am going to count all of the things in outer space and come back and tell all the village about the things I saw.”
Chapungu, closing the hologram, looks knowingly at Ruvi Humbi, and begins to pick up a dried baobab fruit from the ground. Pointing its tip towards the sky, he uses it to simulate a spaceship taking off. He points to the sky and says, “You can get new experiences by moving to different locations. Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” He launches the gourd into the air, and it falls with a cracked thud to the floor, before rolling down the face of the boulder and settling at the base of the lake amongst a few tufts of wild, growing grass. “But one person cannot do all things alone. If you want to explore outer space, you need to have a rocket ship to protect you, like the hard peel of the watermelon fruit.”
Ruvi, confused but intrigued, looks up at her new friend. “You say some very strange things,” she says, delighted. “But you are very similar to my Professor Akashinga. He is always discussing these sorts of things during class. It makes everyone’s head hurt, but not me, I want to know more about what’s happening out there.” So she sits down with her legs crossed and begins to ask as many questions as could come to mind, all while staring interchangeably between Chapungu and the night sky.
The cicadas began to chirp as Chapungu spoke, “The night sky is like a giant puzzle. Hidden among the thousand stars you can find a dozen constellations.”
“Are all those lights stars?” Ruvi asks innocently, though she already knows the answer. “How many stars exist?” Ruvi prompts her guest further. He responds, with discrete pride, “Not all points of light you see at night are stars. Aeroplanes, satellites, meteors, and even the international space station, are all moving very fast, so they’re easy to tell from the stars.”
And just then, something flashes past them, through the sky.
To be continued… [This is the abstract for the soon to be released Childrens Comic Book Series]